My single girlfriends and I come down with a bout of wanderlust every spring. Wandering comes naturally to us; the “lust” part is a bit more complicated. You see, there’s something about travel (particularly in foreign countries) that makes us feel sexy and fearless, a dangerous combination that finds us justifying scandalously expensive purchases and scandalously shady Cassanovas.
Two seasons ago, while feasting curbside on the Champs-Élysées and salivating over our splurges at Louis Vuitton, my friend Audrey and I were approached by a couple of self-proclaimed Parisian princes. I got along marvelously with the harmless one—he who rambled on about his beautiful wife in broken English and let me use his Blackberry to tell my parents I was still alive, albeit besieged by natives.
Audrey, a Texas-bred beauty who speaks fluent French with a southern drawl, was instantly smitten by the mysterious one who took bites of her snails and sips of her chardonnay while whispering Est-ce que ce vin va bien avec la sexe? Roughly translated: Does this wine go with sex? Back in The States, we’d call him le Big Mack (too fast, too greasy) and yet Monsieur Smarm somehow managed to charm my smart, sassy friend with what she declared was “exquisite je ne sais quois.” Maybe it was something in the way he peppered his speech with question marks. Maybe it was something in the fromage. By the time the peaches flambé had arrived at our table she was melting in his lap, and I was ready to permanently excuse myself from the scene.
Of course, this was her vacation as much as it was mine so I went above and beyond the wingwoman’s call of duty. In the wee hours of the morning, the four of us hit up a show at Moulin Rouge, which made me uncomfortable for two reasons: a.) watching topless women dance while in the company of strange men is never a good idea and b.) I really felt my Euros would have been better spent on a designer handbag. C’est la vie.
During the cab ride home, I poked my head out of the window, partly because I was feeling a little ill thanks to Mr. Smarm’s cig-a-boo, and partly because I wanted to watch the alluring city (an emblem for romance, magic and mystery) recede into the background. Never content with background anything, Audrey tried to take her foreign affair upstairs to our tiny hotel room. When her efforts were rebuffed by the inn keeper she told me she would stay downstairs to bid him bon voyage and snag an authentic French kiss.
The next morning when she finally floated through the hotel’s front doors with a grin on her face and glazed look in her eye, I was on the phone in the lobby with one hot, panicked tear running down my cheek. I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to describe Mr. Smarm to the police with my pocket dictionary, all the while wondering if I’d be able to find my way back to America in the event something unspeakable had happened to my French-speaking pal.
One week later, as we boarded our return flight home, I found myself toting some extra emotional baggage because of the frightening experience (I was this close to having a mental breakdown). Audrey, on the other hand, had proudly declared herself a bit more cultured in matters of the heart, replete with the knowledge that all shady men speak the same language, and that “I’ll call you” and assorted sweet nothings will typically translate as “baloney” regardless of their country of origin.